Pyambuu Tuul: A courageous Olympic story worth revisiting

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The moving personal stories of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics began with the cauldron lighter, Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo, who limped from polio contracted at age 8. The Games ended with another triumphant athlete.

Mongolian Pyambuu Tuul was the very last person to compete at those Olympics. Tuul was 87th of 87 finishers of the men’s marathon, jogging in thick glasses and a T-shirt. It took him 4 hours, 44 seconds, which marked the slowest Olympic marathon time since the 1908 London Games. He finished almost an hour after the 86th-place runner.

The marathon, traditionally held on the final day of the Olympics, usually ends in the Olympic Stadium with preparations under way for that night’s Closing Ceremony. Tuul, 33, had to finish on a practice track outside the stadium, as it was approaching 10:30 local time and the ceremony already happening.

Turns out, Tuul was blind for 12 years from 1978-90 after a pump exploded while he worked construction in Mongolia. Operations in Mongolia and the Soviet Union, hoping to restore his sight, were unsuccessful.

“The first two years [after the accident] was the most difficult period,” Tuul said before the Olympic marathon, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I was very unhappy. Angry. Always depressed. Because I could see at one time, though, it helped me in my orientation.”

Then the Achilles Track Club, a New York-based group that supports disabled runners, found and invited him to run the 1990 New York City Marathon with a guide. The group also set him up with the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary. A January 1991 cornea transplant brought back partial vision in his right eye. He was able to see his wife and 6- and 8-year-old daughters for the first time, according to El Pais.

“When the bandages were removed, the first thing I saw were blue eyes [the doctor’s],” Tuul said, according to the AJC. “I could see a nose, a face. As the days went on, my focus got better and better. I see very good now.”

On that night in Barcelona, officials applauded Tuul as he came to a stop on the practice track, hands on knees in exhaustion.

“It is most important for me to participate, not win or finish high,” Tuul reportedly said. “I want to show that a man has many possibilities.”

Attempts to find an update on Tuul this spring, through the Mongolian National Olympic Committee, Achilles’ Mongolia chapter and the New York doctor who reportedly performed his operation, John Seedor, were unsuccessful.

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Sam Mikulak to retire from gymnastics after Tokyo Olympics

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Sam Mikulak, the U.S.’ top male gymnast, said he will retire after the Tokyo Olympics, citing a wrist injury and emotional health revelations during a forced break from the sport due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It does sound like some pretty crazy news, but there’s a lot of factors that go into it,” Mikulak said in a YouTube video published Sunday night. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it during quarantine.”

The 27-year-old is a two-time Olympian, six-time U.S. all-around champion and the only active U.S. male gymnast with Olympic experience.

Mikulak said he noticed significant wrist inflammation last year that was temporarily healed by a November cortisone shot. But during quarantine, the wrist worsened even though he wasn’t doing gymnastics. He took a month off from working out, but the wrist didn’t heal.

He thought for a time that he might not return to gymnastics at all. A doctor told him he would need cortisone shots for the rest of his career.

“At that point, it was really made for me that this has to be my final year of gymnastics because I don’t want to ruin myself beyond this sport,” Mikulak said.

Mikulak also noted realizations from the forced time out of the gym. He learned that he’s much less stressed while not doing gymnastics, a sport he began at age 2. Mikulak’s parents were gymnasts at Cal.

“For so long, I’ve been sacrificing, and I’m sick of it,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to being able to be free from gymnastics and being able to do all these things that I’ve been putting off in my life for so long.”

Mikulak realized a career goal in 2018 when he earned his first individual world championships medal, a bronze on high bar. He wants to cap his career with a first Olympic medal in Tokyo, then, perhaps, become a coach or open his own gym.

Mikulak recently got engaged to Mia Atkins, and they got another puppy, Barney.

“Everything I’ve done in gymnastics is enough for me right now,” said Mikulak, who plans to document the next year on YouTube. “I was actually somewhat happy that I was able to come to that type of decision because for so long I felt like gymnastics really wasn’t going to be fulfilling until I’ve gotten my Olympic medal. And during quarantine, I had this whole revelation where, you know what, I am happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, and I’m not doing gymnastics, so even if I don’t accomplish these goals, I am still going to be so damn happy.”

MORE: Simone Biles’ closest rival chases comeback

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April Ross, Alix Klineman complete perfect, abbreviated AVP season

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April Ross and Alix Klineman consolidated their position as the U.S.’ top beach volleyball team, completing a sweep of the three-tournament AVP Champions Cup on Sunday.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman won the finale, the Porsche Cup. They won all 12 matches over the last three weekends, including the last 14 sets in a row, capped with a 21-18, 21-17 win over Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil in Sunday’s final.

“It feels like we’re midseason in a normal year,” Ross said on Amazon Prime. “I can’t believe it’s over.”

The AVP Champions Cup marked the first three top-level beach volleyball tournaments since March, and a replacement for a typical AVP season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The setting: on the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot without fans and with many health and safety measures.

AVP is not part of Olympic qualifying. It’s unknown when those top-level international tournaments will resume, but Ross and Klineman, ranked No. 2 in the world, are just about assured of one of the two U.S. Olympic spots.

According to BVBinfo.com, they’re 10-0 combined against the other top U.S. teams — Claes and Sponcil and triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, who are likely battling for the last U.S. Olympic spot.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who do not play on the AVP tour, have a lead for the last spot more than halfway through qualifying, which runs into June.

Earlier in the men’s final, Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb kept 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena from sweeping the Champions Cup. Bourne and Crabb prevailed 21-17, 15-21, 15-12 for their first AVP title since teaming in 2018.

Bourne, who went nearly two years between tournaments from 2016-18 due to an autoimmune disease, and Crabb redeemed after straight-set losses to Dalhausser and Lucena the previous two weekends. Crabb guaranteed a title on Instagram days before the tournament.

“Those guys are the best in the world, and they make you look bad at times, but we’re relentless,” Bourne said on Amazon Prime. “You’re going to have to play the best volleyball in the world to beat us every time.”

Bourne and Crabb, Dalhausser and Lucena and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb (Trevor’s younger brother) are battling for two available U.S. Olympic spots in Tokyo.

MORE: Team Slaes looks to end Kerri Walsh Jennings’ Olympic career

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